Global Politics

Why is the US government spying on this Muslim American lawyer?

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Credit:

Courtesy of the National Security Agency

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

The latest revelation based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposes something we hadn't heard before.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The NSA and the FBI targeted five prominent Muslim Americans for surveillance.

According to a report by Murtaza Hussain and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, in the online news publication The Intercept, both of these government agencies have “covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim Americans,” and names five of them. 

The five include a professor, a Republican party operative and two civil rights activists, as well as Asim Ghafoor: an attorney in Washington, DC, who represented clients in terrorism-related cases.

"It was unbelievable — shocking, really," Ghafoor said on Thursday. "And for me, it was also déjà vu all over again. I had a case back in 2004 of having been surveilled by the government, when speaking with clients by email and phone. This was the first time, however, where my email address was actually in a government database. The other, 10 years ago, was circumstantial. It was other people being surveilled. I happened to be talking to them. In this case, it was my name in there. As a US citizen, that just sends a chill down your spine."

The report lists the FBI as the, “responsible agency” for carrying out the surveillance.

When asked whether the allegations of spying on Muslim American citizens was true, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement denouncing the accusations:

“It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights,” the statement said. “Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.”

But Ghafoor is not convinced.

"I’m very hesitant to play the race card, but there are many other lawyers like me, who represent many of the same parties I have- people with frozen assets, people overseas, people in the US with cases against the governments, compliance cases, and people trying to come clean with the government. And they’re not on this list. It’s me. Is it because my parents are from India? Is it because I’m Muslim? Is it because my name is Asim Ghafoor? I hate to even have this conversation, but that’s the only explanation."

 

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